The shipping industry’s response to piracy and insurgencies

18 January 2024

The Red Sea, a critical maritime passage connecting the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal, has been facing escalating shipping challenges. Two predominant threats – piracy and disruptive activities by the Houthi rebels – have significantly heightened the risks and operational costs for cargo ships traversing this vital corridor.

The resurgence of piracy, particularly off the coast of Somalia, has re-emerged as a grave concern. Pirates, equipped with sophisticated weaponry and high-speed boats, have been targeting commercial vessels for ransom, leading to a precarious situation for shipping companies. The pirates’ modus operandi involves hijacking ships and holding the crew hostage, creating a perilous environment for maritime operations.

The Houthi rebels, primarily active near the southern Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, pose another significant threat. Their actions, including attacking and seizing vessels, laying naval mines, and threatening to block the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait, jeopardize the safe passage of ships.

The challenges have led to a steep increase in shipping costs. Insurance premiums for vessels operating in these high-risk areas have surged, and companies are often compelled to hire private security contractors for protection, further escalating operational costs. Moreover, the unpredictable nature of these threats leads to longer transit times, as ships are forced to take alternative, longer routes to avoid the high-risk areas.

Proactive measures taken by shipping companies

In response to these challenges, shipping companies have been adopting a multifaceted approach:Top of Form

  1. Enhanced security protocols

    • Onboard security teams: Many shipping companies are deploying trained security personnel onboard their vessels. These teams are often composed of former military personnel who are skilled in defensive tactics and emergency response.

    • Advanced surveillance and deterrence technologies: Ships are being equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance systems, including radar, long-range cameras, and night-vision capabilities. Some vessels are also equipped with non-lethal deterrents like water cannons and sound cannons to thwart pirate boardings.

    • Secure ship design: Newer vessels are being designed with security in mind, featuring higher freeboards (the distance from the waterline to the deck) and faster speeds to make it harder for pirates to board the ship.

  2. Route Optimisation

    • Real-time intelligence and monitoring: Shipping companies are increasingly utilising maritime intelligence services that provide real-time alerts on piracy and other maritime threats. This information allows them to reroute vessels away from danger zones promptly.

    • Use of ‘War Risk’ zones: Certain areas are designated as ‘war risk’ zones by insurance companies, and vessels transiting through these zones are subject to higher insurance premiums. Companies are meticulously planning their routes to avoid these zones when possible or to minimize the time spent in these areas.

    • Speed adjustments and convoy sailing: In some scenarios, ships might increase their speed when transiting high-risk areas to reduce the likelihood of a successful pirate attack. Alternatively, vessels might sail in convoys, especially when passing through narrow chokepoints like the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, to benefit from mutual support and the presence of naval forces.

  3. Collaboration with international forces

    • Escorts and patrols: Shipping companies often coordinate with international naval forces for escorts and patrols, especially when passing through highly sensitive areas. The presence of naval vessels acts as a significant deterrent to potential pirate attacks.

    • Sharing of intelligence: There’s a two-way exchange of information between shipping companies and naval forces. Companies share their transit plans and receive updates on potential threats, allowing for a dynamic response to emerging situations.

    • Participation in Joint Exercises: Some shipping companies participate in joint exercises with naval forces to improve coordination and response strategies during an actual piracy incident.

  4. Engaging with Stakeholders

    • Diplomatic Efforts: Shipping companies, often through industry associations, are involved in diplomatic discussions with countries in the region to enhance maritime security. These discussions aim to foster stability and address the root causes of piracy and unrest.

    • Support for Regional Development: Recognizing that piracy often stems from economic desperation, some companies are investing in local community projects and development programs aimed at providing alternative livelihoods and stabilizing the region.

    • Policy Advocacy: Shipping companies are actively advocating for stronger international legal frameworks to prosecute pirates and disrupt the piracy network. They also push for concerted international efforts to stabilize the situation in Yemen, which is critical for addressing the threat posed by the Houthi rebels.

By implementing these measures, shipping companies aim not only to safeguard their assets and crew but also to contribute to the broader effort of ensuring maritime security and stability in the Red Sea region. Nonetheless, the complex geopolitical nature of the challenges means that industry efforts must be complemented by robust international cooperation and engagement.

Sign up to our newsletter

To receive bi-monthly industry updates, plus opinion and insights from our expert Logistics Consultants, sign up here.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.